Theater News

Producing in a Room

Robert Kent talks to the Horse Trade Theater Group about making spaces, filling houses, spotting trends, and prompting non-theatergoer theater going in the East Village.

Producing theater requires an expansive skills set: juggling financial realities with creative aspirations, predicting audience tastes, nurturing talent, understanding technology, hiring the right publicist, and shoeing horses. Shoeing horses? It may not be a skill used daily, but the equestrian art has served Erez Ziv and Russell Dobular well. While working as carriage drivers in Central Park, Ziv and Dobular met and discovered a mutual interest in theater. Along with technical whiz Kimo DeSean, the men soon founded the Horse Trade Theater Group and acquired the Red Room Theater on the third floor of 85 East 4th Street, a building which was once home to the Ukranian Working Man’s Club and which currently houses the literary-prone KGB Bar.

85 East 4th Street
85 East 4th Street

The threesome proceeded to turn the 65-seat room into a viable rental space. Following the installation of better lighting and a complete sound system, the Red Room was ready to operate as a fully functioning theater. Newly renovated, it became a highly sought-after space. Six months later, Horse Trade added the Red Room’s ground-floor neighbor, the Kraine Theater, to its list of available real estate. “Our first year’s approach was to develop the theaters exclusively as rental spaces,” claims artistic director Dobular. “One mistake companies make is to get too ambitious.” He confesses that the group’s foray into producing their own shows began earlier than planned. “We offered another producer an early-out clause–and he took it, leaving us with an empty space.”

Scrambling to fill a theater, Horse Trade initiated its “Red Nights Performance Series.” Moving from management to production, the group discovered the pros and cons of producing with such shows as Something, Something, Uber Alles, I Am My Own Cheap Thrill, Maybe I Can Get Laid in Jail, The Pumpkin Pie Show, The Making of Michael Gold and Big Art Group’s The Balladeer. “We’re learning by trial and error,” remarks managing director Ziv. “Unlike many theater groups, we run without grants. Horse Trade is self-reliant–we’re not subjected to politics for survival,” he states proudly. Despite the pressure to fill theaters and generate income, the group maintains standards of what it brings into the spaces. “It has to be good!” notes Ziv.


Capitalizing on the success of their performance series, Horse Trade acquired a third space, St. Marks Theater at 94 St. Marks Place. “Because they run three theaters, they can target specific audiences,” notes actress/co-producer Amy Rhodes, whose Spooky Dog and the Teen-Age Gang Mystery opens at the Kraine this October. “Their audiences are fringe, younger and probably don’t consider themselves ‘theatergoers.’ These guys know what appeals to the community and have created a very supportive atmosphere for audiences and artists alike.”

“Red Room is gaining a reputation as a good place to work,” remarks writer/director Stephen Schulman, preparing to open DUH! at the theater in mid-July. “The space is very intimate and can easily be adapted for larger shows. Plus, it’s a great location.”

Proving Horse Trade’s ability to recognize current trends, a former St. Marks Theater occupant, Daniel MacIvor’s Never Swim Alone, is moving to an Off-Broadway house in July. Additionally, they have generated Off-Broadway interest with their self-produced productions of Rob Mersola’s Backseats and Bathroom Stalls and recent Kraine tenant, Mike Albo’s Sexotheque. “People of our generation finally have enough life experience to write something worthwhile,” remarks the 30-something Dobular, who directed Backseats.

In August, Horse Trade’s three–fully air-conditioned–spaces will host productions from the New York International Fringe Festival. Additionally, the troupe’s directors are preparing for their 2000-2001 season, which will feature Russell Goullinski’s The Shoes and works from three resident companies: Big Art Group, Kirk Bromley’s Inverse Theater Company, and Bon Bok Productions. “We’re looking to build a house where artists can live and work,” claims Dobular.

By the way, Ziv and Dobular still occasionally drive horse carriages through Central Park to help support themselves and their company. “One day, we’ll make money doing theater,” laughs Ziv. “In the future, we want to be our own grant.”

For more information about the Horse Trade Theater Group or future shows at the Red Room, Kraine Theater (both located at 85 East 4th Street), or St. Marks Theater (94 St. Marks Place), call 212-777-6088.